Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Comme d'Habitude"

Christmas in Saint Etienne! a phrase I first learned while studying abroad that means "as usual". It hit me the other day that things are finally becoming habitual and normal for me.... I mostly know what to expect from each day I teach, whether online or in class, and what to expect from my au pair position each morning and night. I mostly understand how the public transit, banks, post offices, and schools work and I know my way around my suburb and city, finally. And even better, I have a favorite bakery (one for bread and one for pain au chocolat), restaurants I love, bars I prefer, and I know where to find the best crêpes... and I'm the first to admit that I take advantage of that way more than I should. People at these places have begun to recognize me and greet me with such warmth and curiosity that I often end up talking to them long after I have made my purchase.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanksgiving en France

When I asked my students what they thought Thanksgiving was, most replied that it was a fête for Christmas and we ate turkey... Well, they got it half right at least! I spent the majority of my lessons over the last two weeks discussing the history and traditions of Thanksgiving and teaching any relevant vocabulary or phrases... and the more I talked about it, the more I realized how sad I really was not to be home for it. 

Luckily, I wasn't alone in feeling this way so a bunch of my friends got together for a Francegiving chez Maria's! This was surprisingly hard to pull off, for a few reasons...
1. Food-- most of what we are accustomed to eating for Thanksgiving is not readily available. Turkey? Not until closer to Christmas, so 3 rotisserie chickens took its place. Pumpkin/Cranberry in any form? Nada, so we did without. Pies? Nope,so we got an apple tart and some cookies.
2. Cooking-- not only had none of us ever done Thanksgiving on our own... none of us had an oven at our disposal!
3. Timing-- well, it's not a holiday here, so we had to work the Thursday of, so we switched our Francegiving feast to Friday.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Un Mélange

This post has been in the making for the last two weeks, but as with anything I write-- I'm a perfectionist. So that means, I write and rewrite about 10 times before I am absolutely satisfied with what I've said. But finally, I finished. I ended up making this post a bit of a mixture, un mélange, of three topics: Traveling, Au Pair-ing, and Teaching.


We ate lunch next to this temple from 10 BC.
I love a good day trip: no need to pack a bag, just bring your camera and a bit of cash and you're good to go. My friend Christian, another au pair/assistant, and I had been talking about taking a day trip for a while, and we finally found a day and time to do one. We decided to go to Vienne, a small city not more than an hour and a half train ride away. I had heard about Vienne from my au pair family because it is known for its Roman ruins, which are somewhat rare to this region. When I lived in Montpellier, it seemed like every city had Roman ruins, but that was an entirely different region and the Roman history goes back much further there than in central France.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Assistant de Langue en France

I have had this post in draft mode for weeks, trying to organize my thoughts because I just don't even know where to begin with to describe my last month or two with TAPIF. As much as it's been beyond confusing and, at times, seriously stressful... I am still so happy that it has given me an opportunity to combine my two greatest passions in life.

I guess you could say that confusion has been the presiding feeling over the last few weeks. I came here assuming all the schools and their administrators would have already figured out when they wanted me to teach, what grades, and what classes. This was not the case. We actually started this discussion after I met with my assigned schools and from there it was difficult for them to all decide when would work best for them.  Luckily, it all was resolved after a month of back and forth and I received a definite schedule.

Today, I had my first day of teaching in one of my schools-- it felt SO good to get back to teaching. When I think about it, I haven't been in a classroom as a teacher in at least 5 months. It is always such a rush to be up in front of my students and be able to get them excited about what we are learning. It definitely put me in a great mood to be back doing what I love again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Les Vacances de la Toussaint

As of October 19th, I have officially been in France for one full month-- which means I only have a little over 7 months left. Since my last post, I have been on quite the emotional roller coaster feeling pretty stressed out and homesick for the first time since my arrival. It's actually kind of amazing that with all the changes I have been experiencing it took me so long to begin to feel this way-- last time it was within the first week. While moving to France IS exciting and a dream come true, that's not to say it doesn't have it's difficulties. I have been trying to adjust to life as an au pair in the suburbs, while also juggling a confusing teaching program, while balancing being social, finding time to travel, and just enjoying my time here-- all while being completely immersed in my favorite language 24/7! It's thrilling... but definitely exhausting.

Needless to say, this two week vacation could not have come at a better time. While I only traveled the first week and will still need to be home to be an au pair for the second, I am so relieved to have a chance to do some traveling as well as relaxing!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fille Au Pair

Ahhh, the life of an au pair. How do I put this eloquently... There are highs and there are lows and sadly, the last few days have been on the lower end of the spectrum for a variety of reasons. In sitting down to write this, I immediately thought of a scene from one of my favorite movies (500 Days of Summer) where the screen splits and presents the main character's expectations and reality on either side. To some extent, I feel like I had this ideal image of what life would be like as an au pair, and in many ways, those expectations have been met. But in other ways, I am definitely struggling with the reality of at least part of the situation.

I feel it's important to preface this post by saying the parents continue to be wonderfully accommodating and concerned for my well being. I feel very lucky that I get along with them and that they have done so much to help me get settled. The boys are really amazing too and are enjoying learning English through talking, reading, and singing with me.

However, like in any situation, not all expectations can be met and some things aren't ideal as a result. My two biggest struggles have become very stressful for me to deal with after a month of being slowly overwhelmed by them daily.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Les Écoles Française

It felt so great to get back into the schools twice this past week, even if it was just to observe for the day. I definitely feel complete when I am able to work with my students and I have been missing it very much since May. I have been anxious to receive more information about hours, grades, and even what days I would be teaching and where since I arrived 3 weeks ago. The majority of the other assistants received this information as early as two weeks ago, some just last week, but that was because they will be working in the middle schools and high schools. Apparently, the process of placing assistants is different in the elementary schools because I still have very little sense of what is going on.

View from the school in Saint Chamond
So far I know this much: I will be working in two elementary schools, one in Saint Chamond and one in Rive de Gier which is the next town over. I will be teaching four hours in Saint Chamond on Tuesdays and four hours in Rive de Gier on Thursdays and both will require a significant commute due to their location. I will have Fridays completely free from work. Because students only have a half day on Wednesdays, it is likely I won't work then either.

However, I will also be teaching other schools from a distance through Skype. I don't have much information about this either, but I know through process of elimination it'll likely be on Mondays for four hours, or possibly split between Mondays and Wednesdays. The point of this will to practice speaking with kids in small groups for about 10-20 minutes a piece. When they finish with me on the computer, they will return to their teacher who will have a written activity of some sort to accompany my lesson. Apparently, they are introducing this into the assistantship because schools that are far away from a larger town don't tend to benefit from the program. This way, they will be able to interact with a native English speaker, even if at a distance.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Deux Semaines de la France

... where do I even begin? Well, two weeks ago I arrived in France and it's been pretty hectic since day one. I plan to make some dedicated posts soon in regards to my experiences being an au pair as well as the TAPIF program, but for now I wanted to provide a quick update about some of the fun stuff... traveling!

Place Jean Jaures in Saint Etienne.
I have made it a real point to explore my new city of Saint Etienne. I really have already come to love Saint Etienne and appreciate that it isn't as large as I may have initially wanted. It's still big enough that it feels like a city, but not so big that it's difficult to walk all around. In my 14 days of being here, I have already made it into Saint Etienne 7 times, so I am starting to develop a pretty good idea of the different areas.

There are so many different squares that are so nice to sit at for hours. Just the other day I had some time to kill between appointments, so I went and had  lunch all by myself in Place Liberation Peuple where it was sunny, quiet, and I read a book and people watched. To put a cherry on top, I ordered a nutella crêpe afterwards-- perfect day and perfect 2 hour lunch.  I need to take some more pictures next time I am downtown, but I've been holding out for blue skies. Next step is discovering the nightlife a bit because I have heard good things, but that's easier said than done when living in suburbia... it will happen though! I am incredibly happy that I was placed in this region and am really excited to explore some of the nearby towns more-- the train really makes that so cheap and easy, so there are plenty of day trips in my future.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Je suis arrivée!

Day 1:
September 19th I arrived at O'Hare 3 hours early to be on time for my 8 hour flight at 6:10pm. The flight arrive in Paris around 9:15am the next day, but I had to wait until about 1pm for my second flight to Lyon which got in around 2:30pm. I was greeted at the airport by Gui, the father, and V, the 4 year old son. The drive home provided me with a 45 minute view of the Loire valley-- which is incredibly hilly, so driving a stickshift here should prove to be interesting. When we arrived at the house, which is a little removed but only a 15 minute walk to the train, I was greeted with bisous (kisses on the cheek) by So, the mother, and G, their 2 year old son. They had been in the midst of picking raspberries from their backyard for their goûter (afternoon snack). All in all, I ended up traveling for almost 17 hours!

My day wasn't over yet, though, because it was only just after 4 in the afternoon when I got to their home. I was determined to stay up until at least 8pm to try and ward off most jet-lag and kept busy until about then so that I was truly exhausted by the time I did sleep-- so we all hopped in the car to go to a nearby park. I see now why Gui and So told me I COULD walk to pick up the boys from daycare, but it'd be easier to drive... the Loire hills would be pretty intense to deal with 2 and 4 year olds. We all played on the jungle gym of the park for what seemed like a long time, but it was probably just my jet-lag kicking in. I picked up a few reminders of phrases that might be helpful for me when handling les garçons (the boys) on my own!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

"Il est temps de vivre la vie que tu t'es imaginée!"

I am beyond excited that it's practically time for me to head to France, though I am also entirely shocked at how quickly my summer in Chicago has passed by. I feel like, aside from a few exceptions, I've been able to spend plenty of time with most of the people I intended to at the start of summer. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to visit my Indiana friends before I left, but that will be the first thing I do when I get back next June. Leaving behind the people I care about is not easy, but I am so happy that I have succeeded at my goal of returning to live in France for a bit longer... before I have to be a real adult and settle into a Chicago more permanently!

Luckily, the most important part of my preparations is done-- getting a visa! While I am thankful that I have it, I have to say the process was somewhat frustrating. The paperwork was not complicated, however, going to the French consulate in Chicago is where things hit a bump.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Seulement Six Semaines!

Well, my flight is finally booked and I fly off to live in France for 9 months in just six weeks! I head out September 19th in order to arrive the next day and I will return on June 7th, 2015. Well, at least I intend to return, but people keep reminding me of the possibility I might just want to stay, especially after I make a life for myself there over the next 8-9 months. We will see!

I recently bought myself a long-awaited present to celebrate my return-- a fancy camera! My little blue Canon Powershot has lasted me since high school, but I decided I wanted to take even better photos to help remember my time abroad. So, I finally decided on a camera and purchased a Canon Rebel SL1. It's the smallest DSLR camera available, which I thought would be perfect for traveling! The reviews for it were stellar and I can definitely see why-- I cannot wait to take it with!  As preparations have continued, I definitely have a lot to get done before now and then, but luckily it is mostly an exciting process.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Décisions, Décisions!

These past few days have seen a lot of unexpected changes to my plans for France! I was under the impression that I would be an au pair for a family in Saint Etienne... until I found out my French contact never passed along my information to the family. Unfortunately, they were unaware of my interest and chose another au pair. I was incredibly distraught because I had my heart set on this lifestyle that would allow me peace of mind with my finances, while also letting me live in the heart of downtown Saint Etienne. Mais, c'est la vie...

My little pity-party lasted for most of the morning, but by afternoon I had made a profile on aupair-world and began my search for other families in the area. Within an hour I had contacted three potential families, though all on the outskirts of Saint Etienne,  and one wanted to talk to me right away. Later that afternoon, I was able to speak with them on the phone and learn a little bit about what they were looking for and what the expectations would be. Today, I Skyped with them and their two boys and discussed things more in depth.

But then I was incredibly divided between my desire to work and live as an au pair and my interest in living in downtown Saint Etienne where I may have the opportunity to be more social and flexible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

France... Encore!

It's hard to believe it's been just over two years since I last lived in France! Now that I am officially returning for the next school year, I figured it was time to start posting again to document this experience.

The whirlwind of preparations has already gotten underway! A professor of mine told me about the Teaching Assistants Program in France (TAPIF) years ago and I knew that it was something I would have to pursue after college. This program would allow me to combine my two passions-- teaching and French. While I began looking into it and considering it a long time ago, the application process started in September and I finally my application for consideration in mid-December. I knew not to expect any response until mid-April sometime, but come the afternoon of April 1st I had received notification of my acceptance! I was half convinced it was a joke until I received follow-up information in the days following. I was told I would be teaching English to elementary students somewhere in the region of Lyon, which had been my first choice.